[Sticky] Discussion Question
A considerable amount of research evidence suggests that ‘tough on crime’ policies are ineffective, unfair and expensive, yet these policies continue to be advocated and receive considerable media attention. For example, all of Canada’s premiers recently wrote to the Prime Minister in regard to tougher bail conditions even though the Supreme Court has now made three rulings stating that bail conditions are still generally too onerous. As another example, police forces across Canada are receiving staffing and budget increases even while the services that actually reduce crime are being cut.
Why is policy in Canada in criminal justice so resistant to evidence? Why is there so much media coverage of crime compared to other pressing issues? What can be done to try to bring criminal justice policy and practice in Canada more in line with what we know to be fair and effective?
I am DD, the host of the panel. I want to thank all of you for participating. We know this is yet another demand on your time, but hope you feel that this forum can be a good way to improve public understanding on these important issues.
I plan to 'moderate' as little as possible. With the help of Emily Stewart, we will also monitor requests from people who are not on the panel who may want to share a comment.
I am posting this at the request of Tony Doob, panel member.
Why is there so much support for “tough on crime” policies?
There is so much research that concludes that “tough on crime” policies are ineffective at dealing with crime and counterproductive (in terms of cost, harm to those who are targets of the policies, etc.) that there is no real need to review it. If you are interested in looking at some research on this, take a look at some of the collections of Criminological Highlights that are available here: https://www.crimsl.utoronto.ca/research-publications/criminological-highlights/about#special
The problem that we face, however, is a simple one. To a very large extent, many people assume -- and many political figures suggest -- that crime is largely determined by the manner in which the criminal justice system operates. This means, for example, that
- People incorrectly assume that crime can be substantially reduced through changes in police or other enforcement operations. For example, the first response to apparently random violent events in public areas is often to increase police presence rather than looking at long term approaches. Our political leaders focus on immediate short-term actions rather than long-term solutions.
- Many people believe that our courts could reduce crime in our society by being more punitive in their response to those apprehended or convicted of crime. Think about suggestions that “bail” laws are a major cause of crime or that “lenient sentences” are a cause of crime.
- There appears to be little concern about the treatment of those found guilty and punished by our criminal justice system. Many of our political leaders appear to have no concerns about the need to address issues related to the manner in which prisoners are treated or the fairness of the system that governs the manner in which sentences are served.
So what our policies seem often to do is to mix these three quite separate challenges – crime, punishment, and the treatment of those apprehended by the justice system – into one simple concept: being tough. The results are not pretty. It is no wonder that we come up with solutions that don’t work, including the following:
- We see “police response” as the best way to deal, in the long and short run, with many problems where the police have very little control over the problem.
- We have scores of counterproductive unfair mandatory minimum penalties. Proposals for “toughening up penalties” are common, and we make the obtaining of pardons either impossible or difficult.
- And we make decisions about how best to respond to those who have apparently committed offences using information that makes no sense.
By assuming that (a), (b) and (c), above are intimately linked to one another, counterproductive approaches are inevitable. There are many parts of our criminal justice system that can be improved. But we need to examine carefully what might improve our society rather than assuming that all we need to do is to “toughen things up.”
The whole notion of “Tough on Crime” is offensive to me. It’s based on neoliberal and neoconservative ideologies similar to the American “War on Drugs.” Why do political, health, and social issues have to be linked to violent metaphors like war and toughness? The irony here is readily apparent. We live in a society that is obsessed with violence – wars, sensationalizing violence in the media, police brutality, violent movies, music, and television. Police, the legal system, and carceral institutions tend to perpetuate and inflict violence rather than stopping it. Our social systems and ideologies seem to fight fire with fire, violence with more violence. How can marginalized and criminalized people, most of whom have experienced severe violence and trauma throughout their lives, eliminate violent acts when all we see is violence around us?
As some of my closest friends like to say, “You can’t punish the trauma out of someone.” Decades of research in psychology, criminology, social work, and other related fields have clearly demonstrated that punishment is not as effective at altering people’s behaviour as compassion, supportive community ties, and positive reinforcement. Our society no longer believes that hitting or locking up our children or pets is an appropriate way to address undesirable behaviours. Why is violence and confinement assumed to be the best way to address law-breaking or social harm?
It's understandable that people who have been hurt or wronged by another might want revenge, retribution, and punishment. These are normal human emotions, just like fear of those who are different. However, it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes or even breaks the law (many are never caught) and everyone has also been hurt by another. For example, in Canadian prisons designated for women about 86% of prisoners have experienced violence and assault throughout their lives. This number is closer to 95% if we look at Black & Indigenous prisoners. Let’s take a quick look at who is criminalized and incarcerated in this country’s jails and prisons:
- In Ontario, 77% of people incarcerated in provincial jails are there on remand. This means they have not yet been convicted of any crime. Most of these individuals were not granted bail due to poverty, racism, or not having what the courts deem an “appropriate” surety. Many of these prisoners end up making a plea deal, regardless of their potential innocence, because it’s faster to plead out than wait for trial in jail where the accused will lose their jobs, homes, and children.
- Based on the annual reports from the federal Correctional Investigator along with statistics gathered from Public Safety, we know that our nations prisons are filled with racialized people (almost half of the women’s prison population is Indigenous); the vast majority of prisoners have mental health issues and about 50% receive psychotropic medication; 75% of women prisoners are the primary caregivers of minor children; most prisoners have struggled with various forms of addiction, poverty, or homelessness.
- According to UN reports, on a global scale most women are incarcerated for petty law-breaking related to poverty or addiction, with violent convictions usually linked to self-defence.
Clearly, there are systemic and structural issues leading to these rampant inequalities. Racism, income inequity, neoliberalism, hyper-surveillance and over-policing certain neighbourhoods and schools, a broken child welfare system that allows at-risk children and youth to be abused and exploited or taking children from their parents due to poverty-related issues, media sensationalism, and conservative political ideologies all play a role in marginalizing and oppressing certain people deemed “the other” or “undeserving.” If we want to be tough on something, let’s get tough on racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and stop blaming people for their experiences of poverty, homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues. It’s easy to judge others and blame people for their misfortune. I believe that real strength or “toughness” comes from fighting our base human instincts and instead acting with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness for those who are struggling, marginalized, or engaging in law-breaking activities – often linked to survival needs.
I was personally affected by our previous conservative’s government’s “Tough on Crime” agenda via Bill C-10 better known as the Omnibus Crime Bill which received Roya Assent in 2012. I was arrested and incarcerated during the height of the most recent “Tough on Crime” era between 2011-2014 for carrying one ounce of marijuana and 3.5 grams of hashish, while also associating with “risky” people. At the time I was in an unhealthy, abusive relationship and addicted to opiates after being prescribed oxycontin and Percocet for 2 years. I was also a PhD candidate in psychology. After over 2.5 years on restrictive house arrest conditions forcing me to give up my education and career, I breeched my bail conditions and was incarcerated for about 5 months in a maximum-security detention centre. The conditions and treatment inside this jail were deplorable, and after 2 weeks of being transferred back & forth to court for my 10-week trial every day in the unsafe, uncomfortable prisoner transport vehicles eating nothing but cheese sandwiches, I decided to enter a plea deal. I could no longer handle the emotional, psychological, and physical torture I had endured. I was sentenced to 5.5 years in a federal penitentiary for trafficking in substances I was never in possession of. I arrived in Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVI) in April 2014. On the surface, the conditions in prison seemed better than provincial facilities. After the first week I quickly learned that the treatment of prisoners was no different. The focus was more on stopping “risky” behaviours, constant surveillance and control. Many times, myself and other prisoners there were given institutional charges for arbitrary and innocuous actions that would be considered normal and healthy in the community. For actions such as lending a friend a book, shirt, music album, or food, eating together and visiting a friend’s house received punishments such as fines, loss of employment (where we make $3/day), and even segregation. I found that the prison system perpetuates lateral violence amongst prisoners, punishing acts of solidarity, restricting social connections, and inhibiting our opportunity to build on our talents and strengths. I published a paper on “The Impact of the Conservative Punishment Agenda on Federally Sentenced Women and Priorities for Social Change” (Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, 2017) while still imprisoned to document our harmful treatment.
As a first-time, non-violent “offender” I should have been eligible for Accelerated Parole Release (APR) where I could’ve been out on parole and living in a halfway house after just 6 months. Unfortunately, I was initially arrested in April 2010, just a few days after the government had rescinded APR as a decarceral option. In 2016 a class-action lawsuit led by prisoners who should have been eligible for APR was successful in allowing some individuals who were arrested within a particular timeframe to be eligible for an early release. I was technically part of this group, but Correctional Services Canada (CSC) failed to inform me. I found out about this through my institutional parole officer (PO) who informed me about 2 months before my statutory release date (the date they have to release me) that I actually should’ve been released 16 months earlier. Instead, they released me just 6 weeks prior to my planned release date. During this final 16 months when I should’ve been in the community, I was placed in segregation fighting an involuntary transfer to maximum security for 32 consecutive days, including 4 days in dry-cell conditions for being found with crumbs of marijuana. I have PTSD from this dehumanizing experience.
I’ve been back in the community since June 2017, almost 6 years now. My warrant expiry date (WED) was on March 20, 2019, meaning I was no longer on parole. Prior to Bill C-10 I would be eligible for a pardon in 13 months. My time had been served without any parole violations. It doesn’t feel like it’s over though. Anyone with a criminal record knows the constant stigma and discrimination we face well beyond the completion of our sentences. Despite having a Master’s degree and 12 years of social work experience, when I was first released I couldn’t find a job in my field and ended up stocking shelves at a grocery store on night shift and selling fast-food in the day. Fortunately, in September 2018 I moved to Ottawa to begin my PhD in Criminology at the University of Ottawa where I could also work as a teaching or research assistant. Despite my success and hard work, when I went to look for an apartment most buildings wanted to complete a criminal record check and credit check, which served as barriers. I’ve been doing well in the community for longer than I was incarcerated now, but part of me is still in prison. I am forever criminalized.
With all that we know, why is policy so resistant to evidence? In consultation with some of my friends and colleagues, we think it all comes back to the popular media and their way of relaying one-sided, sensationalistic stories. Mainstream media need to start taking accountability for arousing societal panic in ways that are detrimental to everyone, but especially to people who are wrongly accused or dead-set on carving a better life path. For this to happen, the media realm should take the time to present and stress on research versus reactive policy making due to public outcry which stems from unfair media coverage. Rather than arouse societal panic through fear, we ought to look critically at these issues and powerful systems that negatively impact the most marginal among us. We need to look beyond the institutional or public narratives ascribed to criminalized people, and listen more to the personal narratives that currently and formerly incarcerated people share. The language that is used by policy-makers and the popular media also affects how criminalized, racialized, and marginalized people are impacted by these systems. It seems that the perception of risk to engage in law-breaking activities perpetuates imprisonment more than the actual so-called “crime” itself.
As a society we need to try something different. Prisons and jails do not meet their espoused goals (i.e., promote community safety, act as deterrents to law-breaking, rehabilitation). Instead, they promote violence and recidivism, causing more harm than good while costing taxpayers millions each year. Warehousing “undesirable” people is like shipping homeless people outside of gentrified neighbourhoods. The social problems remain but are out of view of the elite class. I agree that the overall legal and criminal (in)justice system requires change, but not in the direction of getting more “tough on crime.” Rather, we need to look to alternative solutions from the past and various traditional or Indigenous communities around the world that practice a more healing or transformative justice approach. Healing Transformative Justice (HTJ) approaches are holistic, strengths-based, inclusive, and focus on strengthening and building healthy well-resourced communities for everyone. The focus is on addressing the root causes of social harm and law-breaking, such as poverty, social inequity, racism, misogyny, addiction, and mental health. Our current system is adversarial and focused on retribution rather than building safe communities and listening to the voices of people impacted by social harms. Most women who have survived sexual assault and attempted to use the court system will say that there concerns and well-being were not well addressed. Healing Transformative Justice aims to facilitate the involvement of people who are most affected by social harms to find creative and healing solutions. This includes the victims, lawbreakers, their families, and communities. It also recognizes our common human struggle in that we all make mistakes and at some point, we each experience the roles of victim and lawbreaker. This approach would require radical transformation of our current systems, and would take significant time, research, consultations, and resources to implement. I recognize that on rare occasions certain individuals might have to be separated from the community temporarily for everyone’s safety. However, the number of people incarcerated for homicide is less than 1% in Canada, and almost 77% of lawbreaking is related to drugs. Rather than focusing on the extreme, sensationalized cases, we need to look at the big picture and majority of criminalized people who are marginalized in society.
It’s easier to rush to find ‘band aid solutions’ than do the hard work of addressing the root causes of crime. In the wake of devastating acts of violence, it can be tempting to applaud quick action. But we must be critical of these decisions. For example, it’s no surprise that Mayor John Tory – who was endorsed for his position by the police association – proposed increasing the police budget by nearly $50 million this year, while cutting funding on other essential social services. Was this a decision to protect the public or a strategic political move? Evidence seems to suggest the latter.
Policies are reflective of the values of the governments that enact them. Study after study has shown that a ‘tough on crime’ approach – whether it’s more policing or stricter bail laws – doesn’t make our communities safer. Yet our governments continually push for these ‘tough on crime’ policies. The logical conclusion is that our governments value politics and punishment over real protections for our communities.
Ultimately, protecting the public requires investments in meaningful services such as safe housing, mental health and addiction services, guaranteed livable income, free education, more food banks, and more public washrooms. These are services that keep our communities safe and healthy.
I think a key and important point that you (Theresa Donkor) made is this: "Was this a decision to protect the public or a strategic political move? Evidence seems to suggest the latter."
Part of what gets me discouraged, from time to time, with what is called "criminal justice policy" is that often our political leaders aren't suggesting what they suggest out of simple ignorance. It is more, I fear, that "criminal justice policy" is a good area to try to "score points" without having to worry much about the consequences.
Think, at the moment, about our 'bail system.' It needs serious work (and has for many years). But improving it is going to be hard and will involve more than just the usual tinkering with legislation.
When you look at "comprehensive" criminal justice reform that took place in the 20th century, it is thoughtful, comprehensive, and not necessarily something that will attract votes. And it will, inevitably, involve compromise between/among competing values. I'm not sure that we're going to see that kind of approach for quite some time.
When did we last have a 'comprehensive' analysis of a criminal justice area that ended up with serious sensible and coordinated legislation, policy, and practice changes? Perhaps the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003?
-- Tony Doob
Thank you for all the thoughtful comments. Here are a few thoughts about the discussion so far:
- Lots of agreement that CJ policy is not grounded in evidence and in fact is often in contradiction to solid evidence. We know, reliably, that more punishment is ineffective and expensive and that there are better approaches (the next John Howard blog post in a couple of days will discuss yet another study making this point) yet we seem to revert almost automatically to more policing and more punishment
- There seems little question that crime policy is used for political ends, and that this tendency is exacerbated if not created by extensive and unbalanced media coverage. One of our earlier posts ( https://johnhoward.ca/blog/media-coverage-distorts-ideas-about-crime/) again showed data on coverage of death in the media and how much it is distorted towards crime, moving attention away from other causes that are more important yet largely get ignored.
- Criminal justice policy, as Tony suggests in his most recent post, seems particularly removed from the evidence, a conclusion I also came to as I went through the system, like Rachel, while also reading a lot of the research. Governments like to talk about being evidence-based but in this field we definitely are not, nor does Canada do a good job on having accurate and timely data about the criminal justice system that could inform policy.
The questions I want to raise have to do with why this is so. Why does crime get so much media attention? This is not new; we can find the same in newspapers from 100 or 150 years ago, suggesting that there is something important lying behind this tendency.
Why is crime a powerful issue for voters? Why is our population seemingly more concerned about crime, which remains quite modest in Canada on a historic and comparative basis, than it is about climate change and pollution, which pose an existential threat to our existence?
Why does there seem to be so little public and government appetite for reliable data and research evidence on criminal justice?
If we can come to some conclusions on these or other 'why' questions we may be in a better position to make some suggestions for improvement.
I am thoroughly enjoying this important discussion. Thank you for hosting it and inviting my participation. A few thoughts on the media and crime, if I may:
As a Canadian journalist of more than 40 years' experience, to the charge of senselessly fueling fear of crime—I plead guilty.
Journalism has long thrived on anomaly, or, as one standup comic put it, "The nightly news shouldn't be called 'The News,' it should be called ‘What's Wrong.’"
The fact that several million people will pass through the Canadian Health Care system without incident today will not make headlines, but if one person should encounter an extraordinary (read, newsworthy) obstacle, you can be confident it will appear the nightly news somewhere.
Check out the Weather Channel. In its efforts to keep eyes glued to the screen, the channel elevates normal events like rainstorms and temperature changes to the point where we’re being warned about thunderstorms. Think about it.
Because of the omnipresence of video cameras, minor traffic incidents that would otherwise not tie up a news organization’s resources, flash up on the screen.
The same applies to crime. Not only is crime an easy and dramatic topic and a reader magnet, events that 20 years ago would never have made headlines are now considered newsworthy. ‘
Crime has been on on such a precipitous decline that, for example, verbal harassment is conflated to be on par with physical assault. If your neighbour spots you taking, say, a shovel to a raccoon that’s invading your garbage, you can bet a: the police will be called and b: it’ll make the news; contributing to our already heightened state of public anxiety.
The competition for audience share seems ruthless and remorseless.
The good news is the legacy media headlines count for far far less than they used to.
Ask anybody under 50 which major news sources they rely on. It won’t be the CBC, Toronto Sun or Star. At the same time as crime rates decrease, the general awareness of our population increases. Media literacy, which is taught in schools now, is on the ascendancy.
Consider the recent outcry (by the legacy media) about supposed crime on the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) system. Is it coincidence that the Toronto Sun headline “It’s not just the TTC facing a crime wave; it’s the whole city” appears during the same period conservative politicians are shilling for a huge increase in police budgets? Where do people think the “news” about the alleged TTC violence originates? The reporters get their information about the TTC incidents from the same people who are advocating for more money for cops.
Our increasingly media-literate population sees the relationship. Canadians’ B.S. detectors are dialed up to 11. And that bodes well.
I’m not saying the mass media are not aiding and abetting a growing fear of crime, but I would argue that the mass media isn’t so mass anymore and that the headlines of the day matter far less than they used to. Thank goodness. That's all.
We can turn our attention to more serious problems.
Thanks DD, for posing these additional questions and reflecting on the discussion so far. I've been thinking about these issues for years. When I was in the early stages of my incarceration, it was readily apparent that the espoused values and goals of CSC were not being met, and that the Creating Choices recommendations had essentially failed. When I began reading the relevant policies and legislation I found that the prison system was frequently breaking their own policies and federal legislation governing the treatment of prisoners, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, along with provincial, national, and international human rights treaties. With no background in criminology I naively assumed that legal advocates could simply go to the Supreme Court and enact legal challenges against the system. Then I began learning about the history of prison reform in Canada, mainly for the women's facilities, and found there has been many government inquiries and reports about the systemic failure of prisons and the horrible treatment of prisoners locked behind the walls. At first I felt angry and completely powerless. Why doesn't anyone care that the people in power locking us up for breaking the law, are breaking laws everyday without any repercussions. It appeared that the public was not really concerned with prisoners since we are perceived as deserving punishment. The trauma of prison and failure of the system is extremely well-documented, yet nothing seems to change.
After years of experience and research I'm aware of the relevant large scale socio-political and structural issues that impact prisoners, and a bit more familiar with the legislation process. I agree that the carceral system is based on popular political views and what will attract the most votes. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, the voting public should shape and influence "criminal justice" policies. But what shapes voters perspectives, and who is actually voting? We know that the most marginalized people in society are incarcerated and these are the same people who frequently face barriers to participating in the electoral process. The same pathways that lead to prison, lead away from the ballot boxes. Many people are disenfranchised. Prisoners in Canada are legally eligible to vote in provincial-territorial and federal elections, but there are many barriers to voting from inside.
As I mentioned in my initial post, media sensationalism about "crime" is a huge factor. As DD said, this is not a new phenomenon since newspapers and novels about law-breaking and violence date back over a century. I've come to believe that the way criminalized and incarcerated people are framed in pop culture (books, media, films, TV, etc.) are stereotypical caricatures, dehumanizing the person behind the label. The focus is almost always on the most extreme, sensational cases and any negative aspects of our lives and behaviour. Institutional reports strictly focus on "risk" factors and tend to exaggerate prisoners negative behaviours and level of risk. These reports are all available to academic researchers and the general public through request, but they don't truly capture our lives and experiences. For example, I have a report from GVI stating I had no motivation or "pro-social" connections despite my correspondence with my current PhD supervisor, completion of 2 post-secondary courses, involvement in the Walls to Bridges prison education program, working at Food Services inside, attending programming, and supporting my peers.
For these reasons and many more, I believe the way forward is to shift societal perceptions of criminalized people by highlighting our strengths, skills, talents, solidarity, and value to society. This is the focus of my PhD work. In my research I aim to highlight the harmful practices of the system and the impacts on prisoners, yet despite such horrible treatment most of us still thrive, if anyone takes the time to get to know us for who we really are. I know many extremely gifted writers, musicians, artists, construction workers, academics, activists, and advocates who are currently or formerly incarcerated. It costs taxpayers over $200 000/year to imprison people in prisons for women. The government spent at least a million dollars locking me up (including the court process). Imagine if these resources were redistributed to strengthen our communities in ways outlined above. If we are able to succeed and thrive despite horrendous treatment in prison and constant stigma in the community, imagine what we could achieve if we were supported in the community. Perhaps there's a criminalized person right now that could help solve our climate change issue for example...
With a long history of public interest in crime and sensationalistic media reporting, this will not be an easy shift. I still believe it is possible in a rapidly changing society and younger generations who are the leaders of tomorrow with more socially conscious and liberal views.
Following Tony Doob's indication that there has not been comprehensive criminal justice system reform since the 2003 YCJA:
Do you think the revival of a Law Commission or a Commission to study a particular problem in the criminal justice system would help? I am concerned that there will be a change in the Criminal Code bail laws in an effort to quell the beast demanding tougher measures but that beast has an enormous appetite. If it is fed, it will likely grow. The criminal justice deficits around pretrial detention and release will not be addressed with another reverse onus provision. Minister Rock, when he was introducing the 3rd or 4th increase to youth justice penalties, announced the comprehensive review that led to the YCJA.
I’m also concerned about the demand for stricter bail laws. The premiers and police are pushing the narrative that we currently have a problematic “catch and release” system. However, the reality is that not all accused persons who are arrested are released. In fact, out of the thousands of people in Ontario jails right now, about 77% of them have not actually been convicted of any crime yet and are awaiting trial. That means that vast majority of people in prisons right now are presumed to be innocent. That’s not indicative of a “catch and release” system.
We certainly need bail reforms, but the premiers’ call to action is misdirected. We need more funding for bail programs. We need more social services to assist with rehabilitation. We need more funding for legal aid. We need to address the inequities in the bail system that lead to Black and Indigenous people being denied bail more frequently than others. We need to address the enormous backlog in the criminal justice system so folks aren’t waiting months or even years for their trials. These are issues that need to be brought to the public’s attention.
Given how many posts we have, panelists might want to consider giving titles to posts where appropriate to make it easier for readers to find specific items.
I thought the media coverage of the bail issue has not been too bad. CTV and Global both had items that included comments from experts along the lines Theresa and others have mentioned even though these come at the end of the piece after all the calls for tougher rules.
TVO ran quite a good segment on The Agenda, next to another on rehabilitation.
However I was a bit surprised that there has been so little mention of the very clear direction from the Supreme Court, in 3 recent decisions (most recently Antic and Zora), that bail practices in Canada were too restrictive. This direction does not appear to have had much effect on practice though.
Having worked in community corrections for more than 25 years, I am still amazed how wrong "we " get it. Regularly, we hear from the public about the need to be "tougher on crime" and "those people get what they deserve". For the most part I would suggest these view points of of retribution and punishment come from being uninformed and a belief that punishment equates to justice. As the previous comments suggest, most of us working in the system know this is so far from the reality.
As an organization (John Howard Society NL) who is committed to following the research and evidence-based practice when working with justice involved folks, we often struggle to convey the importance of same even to our funders who we believe should be better informed. I always remember being told by a provincial justice official " we don't need the cadillac of correctional programming". Clearly this comment, as least to me, illustrates the need to provide a quick fix and to show that the government is doing something by investing in rehabilitation.
While this might not be a prevalent viewpoint for all our provincial justice officials, it is way too common. Evidence-based, effective, correctional programming requires an investment in those delivering it and there is often a reluctance to invest in justice-based services when other competing issues such as health and education are top of mind for the public.
When we really assess the participants we work with, we too often realize, people and systems have failed them repeatedly throughout their lives. Through our failure to address and provide for the social determinants of health we will always be trying to help people rebuild the lives rather than giving them what they need to be contributing and productive members of our community.
First of all, thank you everybody at the John Howard Society as well as the other contributors to this important project. Especially to DD and Rachel Fayter for your candor about life inside. You’re giving us a rare peek into a world most have no knowledge about.
And after four days of reading this material, it seems to me it’s not crime we should be getting tougher on; it’s the correctional system.
Clearly, the Canadian correctional system is deeply flawed and self-perpetuating. Individuals with criminal records cannot get jobs; PTSD-wracked ex-inmates are left to make their own way; people with mental health and addiction problems remain untreated and most people being charged with criminal offences these days are actually charged with breaches and other offences that would not even exist if the correctional system were revamped. In the medical field, illness picked up through treatment are called iatrogenic. Canada is suffering an iatrogenic crime wave.
That said, progress is being made. I personally have seen bail hearings skipped because of R.V. Antic. Nova Scotia has outlawed barbaric dry cells. Fewer provinces are incarcerating refugee detainees in jails. Toronto Police are dispatching mental health experts on 911 calls, if need be. Gladue letters that recognize and result in special consideration for Indigenous accuseds, are almost a given. And Covid has been Mother Nature’s gift to the judicial system, accelerating processes that only three years ago were glacially slow. Access to justice has been improved almost immeasurably as accused individuals can often attend hearings remotely.
That said: two steps forward; one step back. We’ve a long way to go.
What about this as a radical suggestion? Because we recognize that a majority of inmates are suffering from mental health and/or addiction problems, how do we de-stigmatize them so other Canadians, who have no knowledge of what goes on behind the bars of correctional institutions, can relate to the inmates? See them as—and I know this is going to be farfetched— people?
We needed courageous individuals to lead the charge, but society has come a long way in de-stigmatizing homosexuality; mental illness and even addiction. How do we do the same thing for inmates and ex-inmates?
When Canadians realize that people behind bars are people, they might start asking the right questions.